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Senate Committee on Appropriations Advances FY2019 Spending Bills

The Senate Committee on Appropriations continued to make good on its promise to move the twelve spending bills that will fund the federal government in fiscal year 2019 by July 4th when it reported out the FY2019 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, Commerce, Justice, and Science, and Legislative Branch appropriations bills as amended.

The committee approved the Interior and Environment spending bill unanimously on a 35-0 vote.  The bill funds the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), the U.S. Forest Service, and elements of the U.S. Department of the Interior.  The likely Senate passage of the bill would mark the first time since 2009 that the Interior and Environment spending bill would be approved instead of languishing on the Senate floor only to be rolled into an omnibus spending package or a Continuing Resolution.  The spending bill in years past has been used to attach all manner of poison pill policy riders restricting environmental policies from being implemented, such as the Water of the U.S. Rule.  This year, the bill avoids these lightning rod riders and instead focuses on directing USEPA to act swiftly on pending rulemakings such as the regulation of PFAS under the Safe Drinking Water Act.  The committee did take a swipe at USEPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s ongoing administrative challenges.  The bill directs the agency to publish all calendars of senior agency officials every twenty-four hours and to list all meeting attendees in the interest of transparency on how the agency’s senior management are carrying out their duties and with whom they are meeting.

One rider impacting the Clean Water Act (CWA) and ongoing litigation surrounding the contamination of surface waters through groundwater sources, appears to have bipartisan support. The bill clarifies that the CWA historically has not regulated groundwater, leaving such matters to states and other federal laws. The language further states that any regulation of groundwater falls within the CWA’s non-point source program.  This program does not allow for enforceable permits on groundwater sources.

From a budget perspective, the bill rejects the Administration’s spending reduction requests as identified in its budget proposal.  Instead, the committee maintains stable funding for USEPA.  The bill would fund the State Revolving Fund (SRF) program at $2.7 billion providing, $1.7 billion to address clean water infrastructure needs and $1 billion for drinking water projects.

The Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program continues to receive strong support with a total of $63 million provided with an expectation that $6 billion in new project construction would be spurred by the spending.  Within the WIFIA the bill language, a priority is made to support projects that address the treatment of PFAS contaminated water supply.  Additionally, $55 million is expressly set aside to address infrastructure needs related CSO and SSO impacts.

The Flint lead drinking water crisis of a few years ago continues to attract a response with the agreement to provide $25 million in federal grants assistance to schools and day care facilities to address systems that have lead fixtures as well as to educate the public on lead threats.

Below is a summary of the bill’s other key funding allocations:

U.S. Geological Survey

  • Provides $1.148 billion.
  • $220 million for Water Resources, which is an increase of $2.5 million above FY2018 enacted level.
  • $1.5 million for the installation of streamgages along certain trans boundary rivers and an additional $1 million for the federal priority streamgage network.

Department of the Interior

  • Provides $1.11 billion for Wildland Fire Management (BIA, BLM, USFWS, NPS), this is an increase of $167 million over FY 2018.

U.S. Forest Service

  • Provides total of $6.29 billion.
  • Provides $3.22 billion for Wildland Fire Management, this is an increase of $349 million over FY 2018 appropriations. Of the total amount, $1.89 billion is for fire suppression and $1.339 billion is for preparedness.
  • Provides $329.6 million for State and Private Forestry Program, this is an increase of $161.6 million over FY 2018.
  • Provides $435 million for the Hazardous Fuels Program, this is an increase of $5 million over FY 2018.
  • Provides $40 million for the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Fund, equal to FY 2018.
  • Directs the Forest Service to prioritize hazardous fuels reduction projects in areas with significant tree mortality that are along wildland urban interfaces.

Click to View Full Committee Report (PDF) – S.3073, Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2019

Next Steps for FY2019 Appropriations in the Senate

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced that next week the Senate will consider the three-bill spending package (H.R. 5895) the House passed last week.  The spending package includes the House’s FY2019 Energy-Water, Military-Construction, and Legislative Branch appropriations bills.  McConnell has indicated that he hopes to roll the spending into a package of spending bills, or in budget speak, a mini-bus, in the coming weeks.  Upon passage, the measure would be reconciled with the House version that has yet to be passed.

Senate to Consider White House Rescission Request Passed By House

Next week, the full Senate is slated to debate and vote on the Administration’s request to rescind $15 billion in unspent funds from Fiscal Year 2017 and earlier.  The action has been triggered because the Senate has just days to vote to approve the rescission on a simple majority basis.  If a vote fails to occur by June 22, the measure would then require a super majority vote, which would need Democrat support.  This is unlikely.  The House approved H.R. 3 by a slim majority of 210-190.  The measure essentially targets health care programs.  However, if the Senate approves the rescission, it would serve as an indicator on prospects for additional rescission requests the Administration might try to implement in the coming months to demonstrate a commitment to roll back the spending contained in the fiscal year 2018 omnibus spending bill.  Senate passage is unclear given some Republican Senators’ comments on the need to approve the rescission.

Water Storage and Title Transfer Legislation Considered by Senate Committee

On June 13, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power held a legislative hearing to consider legislation that focused on water infrastructure and title transfers.  Timothy Petty, Assistant Secretary, Office of Water and Science, U.S. Department of the Interior (USDOI) testified at the hearing.  The legislation the Subcommittee considered included:

  • 3001, Contra Costa Canal Transfer Act. Sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA);
  • R. 132, Arbuckle Project Maintenance Complex and District Office Conveyance Act of 2017. Sponsored by Representative Tom Cole (R-OK);
  • R. 1967, Bureau of Reclamation Pumped Storage Hydropower Development Act. Sponsored by Representative Doug Lamborn (R-CO); and,
  • XXXX, To amend the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 2014to include Bureau of Reclamation projects, and for other purposes. A Discussion Draft, sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

During their opening remarks, Chairman Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Ranking Member Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) made favorable comments about the three bills and discussion draft.  In his testimony, Petty gave a tentative endorsement to the draft, requesting a desire to work with the subcommittee to address issues of concern to the Administration.  Among these concerns is a desire to prevent “double dipping” of federal assistance by project sponsors.  The legislation represents an effort to avoid the creation of a new bureaucracy to fund water infrastructure needs at USDOI.  The draft would authorize $22 million per year over four years with $23 million recommended in the fifth year.  The funding would enable U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) to recommend projects to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) for Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) assistance.  As drafted, the USBR Commissioner would recommend priorities to USEPA for consideration. The measure would make water recycling and other water supply projects eligible, reinforcing existing WIFIA authority.  In an expansion of current authority, the measure would make projects for water storage and conveyance eligible.  The ability to apply for assistance would be expanded by allowing conservancy, reclamation or irrigation districts; canal companies; water users’ association; or any other individual or entity that can contract using federal reclamation law.

Since USEPA would administer the program, the leveraging ratio of the $22 million would presumably unleash as much as $2 billion in new project construction.  If enacted, funding assistance would be limited to 49% of a project costs, in conformance with current WIFIA mandates.  However, unlike the current WIFIA program, a reclamation funded project would be barred from using tax exempt financing for the outstanding 51% of a project’s costs.  WIFIA had originally imposed such a restriction, but Congress subsequently dropped the requirement.  Whether such a decision would be reached as the draft evolves into formal legislation remains to be answered.

Bipartisan Senate Farm Bill Plows Forward

This week, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry voted 20-1 to report the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (S. 3042).  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has announced plans to bring the bill to the Senate floor before the July 4th recess. Key provisions of S. 3042 include:

  • Increases the acreage limit on the Conservation Reserve Program to 25 million acres, up from the current limit of 24 million acres. The program provides a yearly payment to farmers who agree to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production.
  • Increases funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) from $1.473 billion in 2019 to $1.595 billion by 2023. Half of EQIP funding would be reserved for livestock producers.
  • Expands the Good Neighbor Authority, authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill, to allow the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management to enter into agreements with counties to carry out forest restoration projects on federal and non-federal lands.

The path forward for the farm bill is less certain in the House where early efforts to pass the bill fell victim to calls to first address immigration.  On May 18, the House rejected the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 (H.R. 2) by a vote of 213-198. The House faces a June 22 deadline to reconsider H.R. 2 in its current form, or the bill dies. If the House and Senate are unable to pass and agree on a final bill, an extension of the current law would be required. The current farm bill expires September 30.

Nominee Named to Lead White House Council on Environmental Quality

This week President Trump nominated Mary Neumayr to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).  Neumayr is currently the of Office of Management and Budget’s chief of staff and formerly served as counsel for the House Committee on Energy and Commerce; counsel to the Assistant Attorney General in the U.S. Department of Justice – Environment and Natural Resources Division; and, deputy general counsel for environment and nuclear programs at the U.S. Department of Energy.

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works has yet to announce a date for Neumayr’s confirmation hearing

WOTUS Saga Continues This Week

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sent the proposed rewrite of the 2015 Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) Rule to the White House today for interagency review.  It is expected that the rule rewrite will provide a narrower definition for waters and wetlands’ protections under the Clean Water Act compared the 2015 rule.The Office of Management and Budget will coordinate the interagency review process at the White House.  Once the review is complete, the agencies will accept public comment on the proposed rule.  While it is unclear how long the review process will take, USEPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has said previously that he plans to have the repeal and rewrite process completed by the end of the year.

Legislative Activity This Week

H.R. 5787, Strengthening Coastal Communities Act of 2018. – Rep. Neal Dunn (R-FL).  The House Committee on Natural Resources reported on the bill as amended on a voice vote.

Reports and Regulation

Proposed Rule: Increasing Consistency and Transparency in Considering Costs and Benefits in Rulemaking Process

Abstract: USEPA promulgates regulations under authority provided in the federal environmental statutes such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and many others. Most statutory provisions require or allow  some consideration of cost and benefits when setting pollution standards, but there is variation in terminology and specificity provided in each law regarding the nature and  scope of the cost and benefit considerations.

Congress Next Week

June 20, 2018

Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works – Hearing on the Nominations of William Charles McIntosh and Peter C. Wright to be Assistant Administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency